A/N: As per usual, please forgive any mistakes you see as I am the only one who checks the document after writing it!
Sharp Little Pinpricks
Chapter 19: Ann
"Alright," Aveline sighed, pacing back and forth in front of Estra's door. "Where the blight is he? He's late."
Hawke was leaning against a wall, continuously glancing outside a nearby window to check the position of the sun. It had already passed from late afternoon into the early hours of the evening, and Anders was still nowhere to be seen. "He told us to be here, so he'll show up."
Isabela groaned and slid down into a sitting position on the wooden floor boards, bringing her legs up so that her arms could rest on them. "What was it that he wanted to show us? Why couldn't he just give us the damned book so we could be on our way?"
"I'm not sure," Hawke replied. "Apparently there's something we need to see."
"There is," Anders said, walking down the hall with a small, orange cat at his feet. He stopped in front of Estra's office and revealed a key that opened the door. "I'm sorry that I'm late. My visit with Estra took longer than expected. Please, come in."
Hawke nodded as she passed through the now open doorway. "How is she doing?" The orange tabby rubbed itself firmly against her boots and Hawke looked at it with a small, curious smile.
"Estra will be fine," Anders answered before he walked over towards the bookcase that he mentioned earlier, reaching behind a stack of books to yank on a short, old lever. He backed up swiftly, watching as the case pushed forward from the wall and then remained motionless. Pushing the bookcase revealed a short, dark hallway that led into a set of descending, spiral stairs. Anders grabbed a nearby torch and began walking down the passageway. "If you'd be so kind as to follow me and Francis, it's only a short walk down this way."
"Francis?" Isabela mouthed, looking at the tabby and then Aveline with an arched brow. The warrior could only shrug.
Calloused fingertips ran themselves against the cold stone of the passage walls. The gentle flicker of the torch was the only thing Hawke could see in front of her, so she had to extend her hand to trace the walls in order to feel steady. "Where are we going, Anders? It's so dark."
"About a year ago we discovered this passage in Estra's room. The warehouse used to use it as a means to escort exceptionally high quality goods, important individuals, or store gold and rare items from valuable costumers. It leads to a small, hidden entrance to the east of the bay—right outside of Kirkwall."
Aveline's eyebrows shot up. "Is that how you've been getting Mages in and out of the city?"
Anders stopped then, turning to meet the eyes of those that followed him. "It is. Or, it was. The Templars started to finally catch on, realizing that there must be an entrance other than the docks. Small patrol boats roam the coast day in and out, searching for what they know is there but cannot find. Aveline," he paused, turning his attention to the ex-guard in specific, "I trust that you will speak to no of this…correct?"
"I neither offer nor owe you any promises."
Anders shook his head and turned to continue down the path. Upon reaching the descending stair case, Anders kneeled down to find a hidden, unlit torch. After lighting it, he passed down to the last person in line. "I knew you'd say that. Watch your step as we go down—sometimes the stairs can be slippery."
Hawke extended her hand. "Wait. You knew Aveline would find cause in telling the Guard of this, yet you brought us down anyways? Why?"
"Most Templars check cargo before they allow any ship to go. So, this is the entrance you'll be using to get away with the book. However, I would have you know that this passage serves as not only a means for entering and leaving, it's also where we hide and shelter prisoners of this war—civilian and Mage alike. We offer aid to those who have managed to escape the unjust hands of the Templar."
Aveline stopped. "You're hiding prisoners and that's supposed to keep me from telling the Guard?"
"You say Prisoner as if they've committed a crime. Aveline, the people who take refuge in these tunnels are men, women, and their families—mages who have magic, but have never done anything wrong. Most of them are farmers, merchants, fishermen, smiths—not bloodmages, murderers, or thieves. We have civilians who have been committed for Mage-Sympathy—others who were taking prisoner simply because they looked a certain way."
"Where do you keep all of them," Isabela asked, curious in his cause.
"We've turned the old cargo-holding area into a place suitable for staying. Estra has managed to supply beds, food, medical herbs, and quilts until the time comes for them to sneak out of Kirkwall."
"Anders," Aveline said firmly, "how do you know that those you help aren't bad? How do you know they aren't bloodmages, thieves, or murderers?"
When the stairs finally ended, the group came upon a large clearing lit by both cooking fires and torches alike. Children played quietly together while small groups of adults banded together to chat or help cook for the small mass of refugees hidden beneath the earth.
"Do these look like thieves, murderers, and bloodmages, Aveline? The Templars raided their houses, took or destroyed everything they owned. What they've made down here is a community that strives to help one another seek something better than this. They've done no wrong. If you tell the Guard of this place, there will be nothing I can do for them any longer."
"What say you, Aveline?" Hawke watched her companion with soft eyes. "I respect what you have to say. If something about this feels wrong to you we will go. The same goes for you Isabela, if—"
After the pair turned to regard their pirate friend, they found Isabela had already wandered off. She was found kneeling down and smiling in the distance, talking to a little girl and pretending to take interest in the toy that was being showed to her. When Isabela looked up and found she was being stared at, she waved and shrugged, lifting the toy horse up and pulling on its tail so that the mouth chomped. Hawke couldn't help but smile. Aveline, however, only sighed. "I suppose Isabela has spoken louder on the subject than I ever could. I will not say anything to the Guard."
"Thank you, that makes me happy to hear," Anders said softly. "However, there is still something else I want you to see. It's just down this way."
Hawke called for Isabela before turning to follow Anders down a shorter hallway. The room they entered was small and within it was a space separated by wall-high bars. It seemed that this was the room the warehouse managers used for holding rare goods. Still, Hawke had to inch closer upon hearing soft ramblings and scribbles. She took the torch from Anders and lifted it to the bars, squinting to try and make out what it was hunched in the corner.
"We can't do that, no we can't. It would be bad. They would get angry! I don't like it when they're angry because they don't let me write in my journal or the man with the big sword comes to my room at night. I don't like either option. Maker help me, Maker help him, Maker, Maker, Maker. I have to write in my journal otherwise I can't sleep. Oh, do I have new visitors?"
It was a young woman, Hawke noticed.
Anders smiled softly at the woman being kept behind bars before unlocking the door to her space. "This is Ann, the librarian's assistant from Hightown. Ann, these are my friends Hawke, Isabela, and Aveline."
Ann couldn't have been past the age of 25, Hawke thought. She was skinny but seemingly kept clean. It was her eyes, however, that threw Hawke off. Her eyes, a dark, chocolate brown, were almost crazed. Ann had deep bags and messy hair and fingernails. The dress that she was wearing was worn and torn in some places, but overall still in decent condition. Her "space" comprised of a bed and several stacks of parchment, inks, and quills.
Anders opened the door slowly and stepped in. Ann threw herself at him and hugged him tightly before gasping in horror and pushing him away. "Where is the warmth? You're not warm anymore! How did you change it? I want it back,"Ann yelled, causing Isabela to move forward, "give it to me!"
"Ann, we've talked about this, remember?"
"No, no, no, no, no, no…"
Isabela shook her head, watching as the poor woman sat back in her corner and faced the wall, hunching over while madly scribbling on parchment. "Anders, what's wrong with her?"
The Mage took the torch from Hawke before walking over towards Ann. "Ann, why don't you say hello to your new friends properly? You don't want to be rude, do you?"
"Rude? What? Never. Never be rude, my mother always told me. It's bad manners." Ann stood up quickly, swiveling around and pushing herself into the bars, her hand extended out to the three of them. "Hi. Hello. Greetings. I'm Ann. This is my room. Won't you come in?"
Anders lifted the torch closer to Ann's face and Hawke found herself stepping back in horror. The woman's forehead was red, peeling, and scabbed from a deep, magical marking that was placed there.
"She's Tranquil! But she's not acting as a Mage usually does upon having the Rite done to them."
Anders nodded, exhaling heavily. "That's because she was never a Mage to being with. Her mother was a Mage who never entered the circle. She was a single woman with no family and one child. When the Templars learned what she was doing, the raided her home. Ann was discovered studying a few magical texts her mother owned and was also deemed a dangerous Mage. Both of them were made Tranquil within the week without a hearing or assessment."
Aveline, whose mouth had remained open, suddenly shook her head in disbelief. "That can't be so. They made a non-Mage Tranquil? I didn't even know that was possible."
Anders nodded his head. "I didn't ever think of it so I never considered it as something that could be done. The Chantry teaches us that everyone has an association with the Fade, Aveline, whether that is through their dreams or a Mage's connection through magic or lyrium—everyone at one point or another meets or passes through. The Dalish have Uthenera, where they say the body may remain in the mortal world, but their mind or spirit travel past the Veil. No matter how the connection is made, it is always there in sorts. When they took that from Ann…she lost something. And she's not the first non-Mage to suffer this on 'accident' either."
Hawke slowly extended her hand and shook Ann's still offered hand. "Could it be that magic ran through her after all? Even the slightest hint of it?"
"I don't know. It's possible. But in making her Tranquil she seems to have lost herself." Anders knelt down to retrieve a few of her scribbles. "She writes broken words and strange symbols day in and out, mumbles about her treatment under the Templar's watch, or tells us stories."
"How did you get her out of their hold," Isabela asked, unafraid as she moved into the cell to kneel by the younger woman, watching as she scribbled madly.
"We didn't. The Templars received order to throw her out before the Lord Seeker arrived to oversee the progress they've made on the war. One of my students found her wandering the streets half naked and rambling, trying to find something she couldn't remember. They brought her here afterwards." Anders pinched the area between his eyes. "The Rite is being used as a weapon rather than a last resort now. Mages underneath its effects are unable to withhold information. However, because we have a cure close at hand, the Templars are using whatever measure necessary to make this book's location known."
Isabela ignored Anders and smiled at Ann, looking at the symbols she made all over her pieces of parchment. "You like telling stories? I like telling stories too."
Ann paused and looked up towards the pirate with some semblance of a smile. Anders eyebrows flew up. "I haven't seen her do that since she's been here."
Isabela took Ann's quill and drew a funny looking face on her parchment. The young woman watched with wide eyes and giggled softly. "Maybe that's because you're treating her like evidence for your war instead of a human being. She doesn't deserve to be caged up like this, Anders."
Ann took the quill from Isabela and mimicked drawing what Isabela showed her, pleased at the outcome. "Stories make me happy. I like books. I like reading books. My favorite story is about the Sun and the Moon. It's sad but nice."
"I've never heard about a story for the sun and moon," Isabela said, watching the young woman curiously. "Why is it sad?"
"There are many stories of the sun and moon. My mom, she told many stories of them. Most of them were about great love."
"How could it be about great love? Who loved them?"
"You're silly," Ann smiled, scratching off the funny face before drawing more odd symbols. "How can it not be a story about great love? Even though they could never be together, the Sun loved the Moon so much he chose to die every night to let her breathe."
Isabela found herself smiling. "What a beautiful notion. Your mother must have been a great story teller."
"Anders," Hawke asked, "why do you have her kept here, separated?"
"She makes the others nervous. They see the symbol on her forehead and how she rants and rambles and it makes them uneasy with the children around. Also, if something bothers her enough, she can be prone to violent outbursts—hitting and scratching and what not."
Parchment, now fully scribbled on, was pushed into Isabela's hands and she looked at it in confusion. "How are you helping her?"
"We're not. We can't. Not without a cure. All I can do is make her comfortable while she suffers this. I give her parchment, ink, and quills to keep her happy and calm. It's all she seems to want besides breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Now you see why taking that book to the Circle in Ferelden is necessary. It's more than just a tactical advantage against the Templars. It's to help those who have been severely wronged by the Rite."
"So you just keep her," Isabela asked again, rising up to her feet. "You just keep her in this cage all day and night? You don't let her go see the ocean or feel the sun?"
"I'm protecting her," Anders replied defensively. "I was protecting her until you got here."
"What do you mean until we got here?"
"Ann is the reason I brought you down here. I wanted you to see what all this fuss was for—why finding a cure is the right thing to do. I need you to take Ann to the Circle along with the book. They'll know what to do with her and it's better for her to be there than here. At least over there she'll have a chance."
"Wait," Isabela stopped him, holding out the flat of her palm. "What do you mean they'll know what to do with her?"
Anders looked at the pirate uneasily; he knew what he had to say was going to be hard to hear regardless of how he put it.
Isabela narrowed her eyes. "They mean to use her as a test subject, don't they? A way to figure out if the reversal works. That's it, isn't it?"
"It…is," the Mage said quietly, his own brows furrowing. "I don't like it any more than you do. That's why," Anders continued, taking a breath, "I'm also going with you—to make sure she is treated fairly in all of this."
"What?" Hawke blinked at Anders. "You're coming with us?"
"I feel that I have to in regards to this. I can't give Ann to them in good mind without being there every step of the way. In a way, she feels like my responsibility."
"How exactly do you propose to do this," Aveline intervened. "You show up, an apostate to the Circle, and expect them to just let you in on working with the cure?"
"I've been writing them for quite the while now in regards to all of this. They're actually expecting me."
"So what the bloody hell do we need to go for," Aveline sighed. "If you're going, then why do we need to reroute our trip?"
"I can't keep this book and Ann safe by myself. You know as much as I do that the roads and forests are littered with Darkspawn and Templars. If I am going to get this done then I need help. If I take more Mages with me it'll just cause more problems. It's easier to get by undetected as a sole mage with companions that hold no magical powers."
"Are we actually going to do this," Isabela spoke up, her voice louder than normal. "Um. Hello? Are you two actually considering helping him take a woman to be used as an experiment?"
"It sounds bad, Isabela," Anders replied, "but she won't be poked and prodded with needles and chemicals if that's what you're thinking."
"Oh no," the pirate scowled, "it's only her mind at stake! That's not a big deal at all, so let's not give Ann a choice of her own!"
"What other choice would you give her?" Anders looked at Isabela firmly, wanting an answer. "She's already lost most of her mind and it feels like more goes every other day. If she is going to have any chance of getting it back than this is what needs to be done! If you have any other way, please, tell me, I would love to hear it. Or better yet, just don't go with us if it appalls you to such lengths!"
"I follow Hawke. But I will have you know that I agree to no part of this. I had to put up with you in the past for Hawke's sake, but believe my words now when I say that if you so much as hurt a hair on her head—on any of our heads— I will finish what Hawke could not."
"Enough," Hawke finally spat as she lifted her hands up to both people. "I will not travel with either of you if this is how it's going to be. I would rather take Ann and Aveline and get it done quietly and peacefully than have you two at each other's throat over it.
Anders opened his mouth to protest, but Hawke was in his face with a pointed finger before any of his words could come out. "Anders, a part of me will always be very fond of you, but do not mistake that for leniency towards this favor you ask. I will not forget where walking blinding into your past requests lead me. If we are going to do this, we are going do it my way—not yours. There will be no silence or secrecy; when any of us ask a question it will be answered honestly for the good of the group. Is that understood?"
Anders crossed his arms, still looking at Isabela. "I have nothing to hide."
Isabela scoffed. "That's a first."
"You're one to bloody talk!"
Aveline groaned, "This is going to be fantastic."
Hawke nodded tiredly at her friend, pulling her away and out of the room. "I can't listen to them bicker all night. Did you ever hear back from Brennon?"
"She's doing well, but everyone in the Guard is growing more tense about this situation. It somehow feels wrong to be sneaking away with Anders while leaving good people like her behind."
"Would you rather stay, Aveline? I don't want you to feel obligated to do any of this."
"Part of me wishes to stay, yes. Yet, if I were going to be honest with myself I would know that it's better to go than remain in this city. There's nothing left for me here, Hawke—just a crumbling house and the memory of a good man. No, I would rather go with you."
"I'm sorry," Hawke whispered. "Do we need to stop by your home to pick anything up?"
"Donnic and I never really had any precious keepsakes. What we cherished most remained between the two of us."
"Alright, we'll leave from here as soon as we can. I sent word of my response to the Viscount concerning the Divine's request this afternoon. He responded fairly promptly. I am to meet with an agent of the Divine in three days' time."
"Did he tell you what it was concerning?"
"He didn't, but I believe that is only because he did not know himself. He offered the privacy of his office to me when the time comes."
"I'd be careful with this, Hawke," Aveline said quietly, looking at her friend with worried eyes. "It's not that I don't trust the Divine, I just don't trust the Viscount on her behalf."
"Don't worry," Hawke reassured, "I'll be careful. Something is telling me that if he doesn't follow through with this as he should, he will suffer the void for it."
"I can only hope that's true. Until then, what do you propose we do about…them?"
Hawke followed Aveline's gesture. Isabela and Anders were still bickering with each other, as two divorced parents do over their child's well-being.
"Isabela has never liked being underground. I think I should take her up for some air and let Anders continue to do whatever he does down here with these people."
"What of Ann? Should we just leave her there in that damned cage?"
"Sadly, I think it's for the best right now. If we take her out to the docks and a Templar sees her behavior or the Tranquil mark there could be a price to pay. We can bring her up to my quarters later tonight for dinner and before bed. Maybe she'd like to chat? She seems fond of Isabela."
"She'd be the first."
"She would not be the first," Hawke nudged, chuckling gently. "Like it or not, you know you love her too."
Aveline sighed. "Love is such a strong word, but I have missed you both in your absence."
"Well we're here now! And we seem to already be back into our old misadventures!"
"You say that like it's a good thing, Hawke."
"It is," Isabela interrupted, finally having pulled away from Anders. "She's been reunited with her two best mates, her ex-boyfriend, and a non-Mage Tranquil. What could go wrong!"
Hawke slapped her palm to her own face, dragging it down in exasperation. "I really hate when you say that…"
A/N: Thanks for reading! If you're enjoying the story so far, please leave a review and tell me what you think!